In Sickness

“…how with age one’s body ceases to be oneself and turns into an enemy…”

—From Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens, a man who writes and thinks the way I would write and think if I were a thousand times better at writing and thinking. This book was a birthday present from my parents, and definitely one of the best presents I’ve ever received from anyone (the other was a guitar my then-girlfriend and now-wife bought for me last year; I responded with a Mac Air; but now that all of our money is going to the diaper and goat milk companies, there won’t be any presents for either of us this year).

For several weeks now I have been pretty sick, but, try as I’d like, it’s difficult for me to enumerate all of the different symptoms that have been nipping at the youthful alliance between mind and body that has lasted almost without interruption since the exact moment of my conception! As I write this now there is a faint hint of acid bubbling at the back of my throat, and indigestion has never been a problem with me; I have absolutely no appetite although I ate a very small lunch about five hours ago and have had nothing since; various muscles, once strained, do not stop being sore; I feel a sudden burst of dizziness if I move my eyes; and until I began drinking copious amounts of water I was plagued with headaches that would usually begin after sundown, lasting until I went to sleep or took some aspirin. Before this I was one of those very lucky people who have never had problems with headaches, so long as I poured a black libation to the coffee gods who dwell in the fantastic pit at the bottom of my throat. I was also steadily losing weight until I forced myself to eat more, even if chowing down on more than a few mouthfuls of anything made me feel like I was going to puke.

In fact, on the way to tutor some kids this afternoon, I had to get off the subway in Busan and go back to Gyeongju because I was seriously afraid, for the second time in my life, that I would spew all over everyone. So serious indeed was the feeling of nauseous turning-over in my belly, and so distant was home, and so crowded is Korea, that I had no choice but to contemplate the inevitability of blowing chunks in front of countless Koreans, many of whom would no doubt conclude, immediately, that foreigners are just as filthy and disease-ridden as the TV says.

The bus home was packed. An old man right beside me, a screaming baby strapped to his mother next to him, dozens of ajummas shouting mulago? mulago? mulago? (what? what? what?) into their cellphones, which are also blasting very loud KPOP every time someone calls—can you imagine—yes, it would fit nicely, for the sole foreigner on the bus to suddenly retch into his backpack, and then begin his obsequious prostrations, bowing like a bobblehead to everyone, uttering his mortified apologies after he wipes his mouth and zips up the backpack compartment that is sloshing with stomach acid and half-digested tofu cubes—that noble backpack which I have had for many years would finally end its days in the pile of trash that lies against the side of our extraordinarily expensive apartment building, waiting to give a nasty surprise to whoever decides to adopt it.

My wife, who is a nurse, has concluded that I probably have an ulcer. Wikipedia states that ulcers can be caused by stress and irregular eating. In response to this I can only bring my wrists together and say: guilty as charged! Guys, I just turned 24, and I have to say that I’ve been shirking one too many lunches and dinners, and that in spite of how calm I may seem, I am now under more stress than I’ve ever experienced in my life.

You see, before the baby, and before I got a serious job, I was only ever stressed out by the occasional paper or project in college. But because I had a decent work ethic I would always hunker down and take care of it, after which time the stress would disappear, and life would be hunky dory. Not so today. Lovely as our son is, wonderful as this job is, the stress related to both son and job is really unending.

And actually, now that I think about it, the boy is not so stressful anymore. In the first four months of his life I would say he probably cried—screamed, shrieked, wailed, loudly enough to permanently damage my hearing—for at least an hour a day, scattered about every moment he went to sleep, woke up, grew hungry, bored, or uncomfortable. Now, since the great Chill Out, which occurred about two weeks ago when my son somehow figured out that every minor discomfort he experienced was not a telltale sign of his impending torture and death, he probably cries for just a few minutes a day.

The job, as I may have said, is swank. But every morning I leave for work I’m practically bolting across the bridge over the Elder Brother River to dash out no less than one and no more than three lesson plans for the few hours of teaching that lay ahead. Some classes I’ve taught have been mediocrities, none have been disasters, and most have been fun and really fulfilling—I feel as if I’m both appreciated and making a difference, and I have so much experience now that if there’s any sort of a lull, or if we ever run out of things to do, I have no trouble pulling something useful and relevant straight out of my ass, and I can also make it look as if I had planned to do so all along—but in spite of all of this, the stress and the fear I feel on that otherwise pleasant walk, the teacher’s looming nightmare of being caught with your pants down in front of more than a few fully-aware human beings—I suspect that this has caused my otherwise healthy body to need a tuneup.

On many afternoons I also replaced entire lunches with single bagels, and rarely had time to eat when commuting to Busan, which I do twice a week. I thought all of this would benefit me by saving money and causing weight loss: instead, I feel like crap, and if there’s some kind of a disaster in the next day and a half I’m going to have to shell out thousands of dollars to go to the ER, since that’s the only place that’s staffed over the weekends in the hospitals here—although if I can make it to Monday through my unbelievable flatulence (farting and burping more than I breath), it’s possible that everything will turn out alright. Who knows? We’ll see.

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8 thoughts on “In Sickness

  1. Jennifer says:

    Ian – you and I should have a chat – for more than to talk about your health, obviously, but also to talk about your health. You have approximately the same symptoms I had (which landed me in the ER 3 times!!!) until I started alkalinizing my diet and not eating so many acid-producing foods. This sounds like mumbo-jumbo perhaps, but it is mumbo-jumbo that has 100% stopped a problem which had left me unable to eat anything and heading to the emergency room twice in any given week.

    The short version is an alkaline diet should be nearly all vegetables (not pickled vegetables which are highly acidic), should contain no milk (never a problem for me, but seriously, no milk), and very few simple carbohydrates like bagels. NO COFFEE!!! I cannot state that enough – coffee is like pouring acid directly into your body. Non-caffeinated tea, or green tea, for some reason, are both okay. I can’t remember the exact websites where I got my food info, but if you google “acid-alkaline diet” you should find some charts.

    Raw cucumbers were absolutely the best thing to eat for me. If I ate fruit and raw cucumbers as my base in the morning I was pretty set for the rest of the day. For a few weeks I stuck very strictly to the diet, since then I’ve backed off and have eaten more or less what I used to again, but the alkaline diet stopped all my symptoms dead in their tracks in a matter of days.

    I also recommend not eating anything at all if you’re feeling sick and trying to vomit it up if you can. I had a few nights where I felt like an alien was going to burst out of my stomach until I vomited.

    That said, we may have different things, but the alkaline diet is purportedly supposed to work for a myriad of health problems, and it won’t really cost you too much time or money. Just chop a lot of cucumbers and carrots in the morning, bring some fruits with you, and you’ve got a good baseline.

    I really hope you feel better soon and we should talk soon! After the musical is over, we owe you a visit!

    Love and luck!

    – Jen

  2. Jennifer says:

    Also – why on earth do you think you’ll have to spend thousands of dollars to go to the ER here? The most I’ve ever spent at the ER here was like $100 – and that’s because they gave me a CT scan on top of the IV and bed-rest.

  3. hiddenconnections says:

    It’s what the wife says! But I definitely have the same alien belly-burster feeling. I’m going to give this a try tomorrow, Jen, thanks, and yes, COME TO GYEONGJU, IT IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN BUSAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

  4. hiddenconnections says:

    Hmmm, wikipedia calls the alkaline diet “quackwork” (, but it definitely sounds like I have this—

  5. Jennifer says:

    Yeah, well, wikipedia can suck it, cause it worked like a charm for me! I know, too, that a lot of the sites for “alkaline diet” look like total quack sites – I actually signed up for a free e-mail “newsletter” intended to get me to buy this guy’s $200 some dollar program just so I could get a diet chart. But the thing is, the diet chart totally worked and told me to do things which benefited my health. And I never shelled out $200. I’ll try anything, I guess, that doesn’t seem harmful and may seem helpful. Anyway, I hope you will feel better soon, no matter how you go about it! Gyeongju has its charms, I know. We lived there for a month in 2009, remember! But I’d have a hard time living somewhere without plentiful vegan food options that I don’t have to cook myself. And I like the ocean. A lot. But yeah, Gyeongju is good. On that we can agree. I think Busan and Gyeongju come out about even, however, when one considers the larger range of cultural/eating/beach options in Busan.

  6. m.tomolonius says:

    Ian- see a doctor and get some definitive answers. Uncle Mike.

  7. Luna says:

    Hitchens reminds me of an atheist Gilbert Chesterton; neither let facts stand in the way of a good turn of phrase. That’s admirable.

    As for the stress, if you ever feel like talking about being married with a kid at 24, remember that was just about me three years ago. You can call me any time you want!

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